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ONE TRUE THING

If literature were judged solely by its ability to elicit strong emotions, columnist-cum-novelist Quindlen (Object Lessons, 1991) would win another Pulitzer for this wrenching, albeit flawed fiction. After a short prologue about the time she spent in jail, accused of having killed her mother, Katherine, Ellen Gulden quickly skips back to her story's beginning, when the 24-year-old's father guilts her into putting her high-powered New York writing career on hold and moving back to Langhorne, the small college town where she grew up, to care for her mother, who has cancer. Cerebral, high-achieving Ellen has always been more her father's daughter; he is the English department chairman, while Mom is a Martha Stewart-perfect homemaker, the type of woman who canes her own chairs. But she and Ellen begin to influence each other, and it becomes clear that Katherine is attempting to take care of unfinished business in her characteristically graceful way, even as her body rapidly deteriorates. With this relationship Quindlen shines, capturing perfectly the casual intimacy that mothers and daughters share, as well as the friction between women of two very different generations. Male characters are sometimes less successful. Ellen's father is so cold that it's hard to fathom how her gentle mother has stood him for so many years, and Ellen seems a little smart and a little old to still be reeling from the discovery that Dad isn't perfect. Even more unconvincing is Ellen's long-time boyfriend, ruthless and uncaring Jonathan Beltzer. These problems are generally surmounted by Quindlen's practiced storytelling. By the time Katherine's autopsy reveals that she died of a morphine overdose, the jailhouse prologue has almost been forgotten, so the clever mystery ending (complete with satisfying twist) is an added bonus. When Quindlen gets it right—which is often—she places herself in the league of Mary Gordon and Sue Miller.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-40712-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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